Thursday, April 12, 2007

A long ramble on feminism

I was filling out an online survey on parenting ideas last week (if you're a mother of small children, you might like to participate), and encountered the question, "Can you describe feminism in a sentence or two?"

Blithely I typed in, "Sure," and continued with the survey. DOB, reading it over, suggested it might be better to respond in a more serious tone. After all, it wanted me to declare whether I was one or wasn't one.

Dear me.

I don't know.

But I "don't know" not in an "I am ignorant on the topic" sense, but in an "I know far too much to side with anybody" sense.

Do I support women being able to vote, own property, and practice law? Most certainly. But that's a definition of feminism almost too archaic to count.

The modern form of feminism is sort of a twisted form of patriarchy--they both think men are the Superior Example of Humanity, the partriarchs just think that women should bow to this superiority, while the feminists think that they should turn themselves into men. Do men work ridiculously long hours and neglect their children? Then women should, too. Do men engage in casual sex? Then women should, too.

Even complementarians seem to me to harp unduly on men and women as separate camps of people. Men and women are different, yes. But the only difference you can really count on holding true is that women have the equipment for bearing children and men for begetting them. This is not just a petty biological difference, of course--producing another human being is one of life's most profound acts, and the outworkings of this distinction colors life from infancy to death.

But it's not a simple distinction. Once you move past the biological facts and start generalizing about abilities and roles, the generalizations (like almost all generalizations) start being wrong. Women on average might be more nurturing than men, but not all of them. Men on average might be more interested in abstract reason and higher math, but there are plenty of women who love calculus and plenty of men who threw their algebra books across the room.

My mother complained about how my dad, with his masculine, one-track mind, would weed the garden in happy oblivion while the children committed clamorous crimes a few feet away, but now DOB complains about my happy oblivion while the children howl. Apparently one-track minds don't only travel on the Y chromosome.

So when someone actually gets so far as trying to define a particular role for a particular gender and say wives and husbands must relate to each other like thus, or we should raise our little boys and our little girls to do this, I never quite can see that far. Marriage is a complicated dance, and who leads or follows is much less significant than whether they're dancing to the same tune. And neither men who harp on submission nor women who harp on independence are listening to the music at all.

Children need to be raised to be people, first; boys and girls both need to learn to be brave, kind, generous, hard-working, appreciative of beauty and willing to get their hands dirty. Only girls wear dresses in our culture, but other than that, I'm quite happy to have my children play however they like, and I smile just as broadly when D2 picks up a baby doll and changes its diaper and when D1 asks to hear the book about trucks for the sixth time. Or vice versa. Forcing kids into or out of gender stereotypes is not what parenting should be about.

As for what women should do with their lives, they should do what they want to do, what they're good at doing, what's important to them. But like anyone, they should consider other people around them before they decide. Children might need their mother even if their mother doesn't need them all that much. A husband might need respect and a good dinner even though he's being a jerk. The Christian ideal is not about serving ourselves, after all, but about serving others--and that still applies to women as well as to men.

I don't like the word feminist because it splits the human race in half. Neither women nor men are more important or necessarily all that different. But we don't need to force them into being the same, either. Women in general and men in general and boys in general and girls in general are only the vaguest of abstractions; what matters is the particular man, woman, boy or girl we have to do with.


Kristen said...

This is how I feel about it, too! Thank you for writing this more succinctly than I could ever say it!

Kristen said...

RYC-Nope, definitely not expecting, but trying. :) Check back again in six months.

Queen of Carrots said...

Well, good luck, then!